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Dana Nessel and Jocelyn Benson swamping Michigan GOP rivals in fundraising

cash
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson each have millions of dollars in the bank as November nears. The fundraising efforts of their challengers — Matthew DePerno and Kristina Karamo — have failed to keep pace. (Shutterstock)
  • Dana Nessel, Jocelyn Benson have huge cash advantage over their GOP opponents 
  • The election is less than two months away
  • Former President Donald Trump will return to Michigan Saturday to boost his endorsed candidates

LANSING — Dana Nessel and Jocelyn Benson — two of Michigan’s top Democratic officials seeking re-election — continue to swamp their Republican challengers in fundraising as the Nov. 8 election nears.

Nessel, the state’s attorney general, had more than $2.4 million in the bank as of Sept. 10, while her GOP challenger Matthew DePerno had less than $240,000 — one-tenth of Nessel’s balance — as of Sept. 16, according to campaign finance reports released Monday.

Sponsor

And Benson, Michigan’s secretary of state, had $3.3 million on hand as of Sept. 10. Her Republican opponent Kristina Karamo had just under $185,000 by Sept. 16, the records show.

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Both DePerno and Karamo are endorsed by former President Donald Trump, who is returning to Michigan on Saturday in an effort to boost the duo. Trump will also stump for GOP nominee for governor Tudor Dixon, who is facing Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November. Whitmer holds a 28-1 cash advantage in that race.

DePerno, an attorney who never held elected office, raised his public profile through his failed lawsuit challenging the 2020 presidential election results in Antrim County, where initial results falsely indicated Joe Biden won the county. Local clerks corrected the results before certifying them to show Trump won 61 percent of the votes, but DePerno and other Trump supporters demanded a “forensic audit” of the outcome. 

DePerno embraced Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election — which Joe Biden won in Michigan by more than 154,000 votes —was rigged against Trump, even though more than 250 local audits in Michigan and an investigation led by GOP state lawmakers showed no widespread voter fraud or evidence that would have led to a different outcome.

DePerno is also facing possible criminal charges in Michigan for his involvement in an alleged voting machine tampering case, which is being investigated by a special prosecutor. DePerno was one of nine people accused by attorneys for the state of “gain(ing) unauthorized access and compromised tabulators” in Roscommon County, Richfield Township, Lake Township and Irving Township between March and June 2021.

The GOP lawyer has raised $763,000 and spent $587,000 for the election cycle, records show. He is his own biggest donor, loaning his campaign almost $130,000 in cash, a Bridge analysis of campaign records shows. 

Among other big DePerno donors are former GOP gubernatorial candidate Perry Johnson and Republican strategist John Yob, who consults for DePerno’s campaign. Both have contributed the maximum $7,150 allowed under campaign finance law. 

Trump’s Save America PAC pitched in $5,000, records show. DePerno’s campaign spent five times that amount — $25,320 in total — at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago on fundraising events, campaign records show. 

DePerno has raised less money than Tom Leonard, the man DePerno beat for the Republican attorney general nomination in April. Records show Leonard raised nearly $810,000 in his failed bid and kept $523,000 on hand as of Sept. 16.

Nessel, the Democratic incumbent, raised more than $435,000 and spent $538,000 in August and September alone, campaign records show. She has raised $4.2 million and spent $1.7 million in her election campaign.

The Nessel campaign’s top donors include unions such as SEIU Michigan and AFSCME as well as the political arm of the Democratic Attorney General Association, all of which gave the maximum $71,500 allowed under state law. 

Nessel’s office worked to expand criminal expungement and led the investigation into former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, but her office has also drawn criticism for its handling of the Flint water crisis prosecution.

The attorney general, who supports abortion rights, has been vocal on refusing to prosecute those seeking or performing an abortion in Michigan under the now-blocked Michigan’s 1931 abortion law. The law would have made abortion a felony except to save the life of the patient seeking abortion following the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer.

Nessel and DePerno have clashed over multiple issues, ranging from the 2020 election outcome to enforcement of the 1931 abortion ban.

DePerno has called Nessel, who is lesbian, a “groomer” and has said he wants to prosecute her and Benson “for all the damage they have done" in office. Nessel has in turn rejected DePerno’s request for a debate, arguing DePerno is “not a serious candidate.”

Karamo campaign raising few dollars 

In the secretary of state race, Benson holds a 16-1 fundraising edge over Karamo, with $3.3 million in the bank for the last six weeks of campaigning, campaign records show.

Karamo has less than $200,000 on hand to make the case for her election, records show. 

Like DePerno, Karamo contends there were election irregularities in 2020 and claimed she witnessed voter fraud when she was a poll challenger in Detroit. If elected, Karamo said she would continue to investigate 2020 election fraud claims, review voting machines and reduce regulations at Secretary of State branch offices.

Karamo has raised $907,000 and spent $722,000 for the election cycle. She took in $211,000 and spent $304,000 between August and September, records show. 

Karamo’s funds mostly came from individual donors and local Republican parties. Ron Weiser, chair of the Michigan Republican Party, gave her campaign the maximum $7,150 state law allows, and Trump’s Save America PAC also gave $5,000.

Her campaign spent more than $20,000 on catering at the Trump National Golf Course on Aug. 17, a day after Trump held a fundraiser for her Karamo SOS Fund, records show. 

Sponsor

Benson, the Democratic incumbent, has raised more than $4.2 million for the election cycle and spent $962,000. 

The first-term Democrat oversaw the first statewide election in Michigan after no-reason absentee voting was approved by voters in 2018. She called the 2020 election the most secure in the state's history. She has touted her record shortening wait times for secretary of state services (though wait times grew worse before they improved), expanding online services and partnering with grocery stores to install service stations in the buildings.

Much like Nessel, Benson received most of her cash from unions like SEIU and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters, both of which gave $71,500. Her campaign also received $100,000 from the Michigan Democratic Party and $71,500 from iVote Fund, a national voting rights group boosting Democrats for public office.

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